Cannes Film Festival: Loving

In Competition
Directed by Jeff Nichols
Starring Joel Edgerton, Ruth Negga, Marton Csokas, Nick Kroll, Terri Abney, Alano Miller, Jon Bass and Michael Shannon
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by Joanna Orland

Jeff Nichols has a distinct directorial style which he has carved out through his ambient rural dramas including Take Shelter and Mud.  It’s a dubious thought to consider Nichols taking on a true story, including that of Richard and Mildred Loving, an interracial couple who married and then spent the next nine years of their lives fighting for the right to live with their family in their hometown in Virginia.  Their civil rights case Loving v. Virginia was a high profile one that made it to the Supreme Court in 1967, reaffirming the right to marry and opening the door to marriage for all diverse couples who have come since.

Nichols approaches the story of Richard and Mildred Loving as he does any of his films – with quiet repose that emanates emotion through lingering shots of nature, sparse dialogue and overall confidence in what he is filming.  Joel Edgerton is wonderful as Richard, a quiet man who longs to be with the woman he loves.  The stoic one of the pair, Richard will do anything for his wife and their children, including moving from their home in Virginia to Washington in order to be together, and then back again to Virginia when his wife longs to fight for their right to live there.  Ruth Negga as Mildred is equally engaging, the more persistent of the pair and at the forefront of their battle against the State of Virginia.

It’s Mildred’s persistence that gets the attention of the ACLU and lawyer Bernie Cohen who wants to take their case all the way to the Supreme Court.  The role of Cohen is played by Nick Kroll, an odd casting choice for such a serious and moody film as the comedian is known for playing rather loud and vulgar characters.  He’s not quite made the transition from comedy to drama that Steve Carell has, but Kroll holds his own amongst a cast who are immersed in some very serious acting.  Rounding out the known cast is Michael Shannon, a longtime collaborator of Nichols who appears here in a very small but poignant role as a photographer from LIFE magazine who is assigned to capture life at home with the Lovings.

Make no mistake – this is not a straightforward biopic of the Lovings, nor is it a political drama about the right to marry.  The political implications are strongly present, but never detract from the heart of the story.  What Loving is, is a beautiful and inspiring story of love and how it can be enough to change the world.  While placing a true story in the hands of such an artistic director as Nichols may have come with its doubts, the director has done the Lovings justice, much more so than the State of Virginia ever willingly has.



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